Alterman: Post "ousted" Weigel for "bias" but Broder "has clearly showed bias and retains his job"

Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

Media Matters' Jamison Foser has looked at Washington Post's David Broder extensively, concluding in a February column about the "myth" of the Post's "liberal" op-ed pages:

Let's start with David Broder -- he is, after all, the much-lauded "dean" of the Washington press corps, and frequently described as a liberal. In the context of the Post's roster of opinion writers, he may be one. But from his 1969 complaint that nasty anti-war activists were out to "break" an unfairly maligned president Nixon to his 2006 description of anti-war activists as "elitists" and his Cheney-esque 2007 slur that Democrats have little "sympathy for" the military, David Broder has made clear that he is no liberal.

I've previously laid out at some length the case against David Broder's sterling reputation. This is a man who thought that President Clinton should have resigned because he "may have" lied about an affair, but who didn't think President Bush should have done so after he lied his way into a war. Not even when he declared Bush "lawless and reckless" did he think resignation was in order. And, having piously insisted that he and his beltway buddies don't like being lied to when Bill Clinton wasn't telling the truth about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Broder lavishes praise upon Sarah Palin, a politician who only lies when she speaks. And when she writes.

In his 2006 column declaring Bush "lawless and reckless," Broder seemed more upset with the "vituperative, foul-mouthed bloggers on the left" and gratuitously slammed Al Gore and John Kerry for a "know-it-all arrogance rankled Midwesterners such as myself" (no surprise, really: During the 2000 campaign, Broder bashed Gore for the sin of offering too many details about "what he wants to do as president.")

In 2005, Broder blamed congressional Democrats -- who were in the minority -- for a failure to conduct oversight hearings; in 2007, when Democrats were in charge, he bashed them for doing so. He's against investigating torture, and he was against investigating the outing of a CIA agent. But he's in favor of investigating the Clintons' marriage (not the marriages of Republicans, though!).

Anyway: there's much more here, including the fact that David Broder praised President Bush's response to Katrina. What more do you need to know?

Now, Eric Alterman -- a senior fellow at Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College -- writes that the Post "ousted" David Weigel for displaying "bias" in his emails to a private, off-the-record listerserve but they continue to let Broder work despite the fact that he "has clearly showed bias and retains his job."

Alterman writes:

In [Howard] Kurtz's haste to defend his employer he misses more than a few points of note, though his views are consistent with those expressed by his boss David Branculi, Weigel's editor Raju Narisetti, and the paper's ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, all of whom worried about the reaction of readers to the revelation that a) reporters have private opinions and b) conservatives complain when they don't get what they want.

Here are some comments from the Post brass:

"Dave did excellent work for us," the executive editor of The Post, Marcus Brauchli, told Kurtz, the paper's media columnist. But then he added, "We can't have any tolerance for the perception that people are conflicted or bring a bias to their work."

Later on Branchuli added that The Post needed to be "completely transparent about what people do ... and completely transparent about where people stand." And those in "traditional reporting positions," he said, should remain "nonpartisan, unbiased and free from slant in their presentation in the paper and in any other public forum. There should be no appearance of conflict."

Alterman then sets his well-researched sites on Broder:

Take for instance the career of David Broder, who is, together with Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward, undoubtedly among the most admired figures in the entire history of The Washington Post. For most of his career Broder has been both reporting inside the paper (and on its front page) and expressing his strong opinion on its editorial pages, on television, on radio, and undoubtedly on social occasions to his friends. He was paid both by the paper as a reporter and by the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicated his column.

Apparently, all Broder's different "hats" never raised any "confusion" on the part of the readers in the minds of Post editors because his opinions were almost perfectly consistent with the Washington establishment's views.

Since I have spent the past 20 years or so studying and writing about Washington pundits' views, I have extensive files on these views. Here are a few on Broder:

  • On Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy: Broder had little patience for antiwar Democrats who challenged Lyndon Johnson in 1967. The antiwar activities of the likes of Robert Kennedy and Gene McCarthy, he believed, were "degrading … to those involved."
  • On Ronald Reagan: When the president decided to bomb Libya in 1986 to try to kill Muamar Khaddafi, Broder assured readers that "Reagan has been insistent that every possible step be taken to spare the innocent."
  • Broder repeatedly lauded Reagan on his "presidential" qualities and "national leadership of a high order," and was impressed by "the grace with which he functions as chief of state in moments of national tragedy and triumph."
  • Here's one of my favorites: Broder published an excerpt from this new book, Beyond the Front Page, on page one of the Washington Post Outlook section of March 22, 1987, in which he explained:

The White House propaganda machine has ... enhanced the power of the communicator-in-chief. And it has raised to even greater importance the unmet challenge for the press to provide an alternative, non-propagandistic view of the presidency. This is a challenge we in the Washington press corps—and our editors and bosses—cannot afford to ignore.

Yet on the last page of the same section Broder apparently found himself helpless before the very same phenomenon. During Reagan's speech earlier that week the president continued to adhere to his preposterous notion that he had not intended to trade arms for hostages or encourage his administration to contravene any laws on behalf of the contras. Broder spins himself silly on this lying:

The White House has repaired the damage from the Iran affair explosion and reopened for business. President Reagan's news conference on Thursday night provided the strongest evidence yet that the proprietor of the shop has regained a good measure of his emotional balance and is ready to reclaim his role at the center of government. The president did not change his story—or add much to it. But he showed the steadfastness and confidence that had been so conspicuously missing in the final months of 1986. Now Reagan can begin refocusing the nation's attention on his policy agenda without being accused of trying to avoid That Painful Subject.

Note that in the above example, Broder did not actually claim that Reagan offered any coherent explanation for the Iran-contra or for his own role in it. And he didn't explain what had changed inside the White House to prevent such occurrences from taking place in the future. Instead he merely embraced the narrative put forth by the propaganda machine to enhance the power of the communicator-in-chief.

Alterman then goes on to note more contemporary examples of the Post's Broder problem concluding with the following query:

But I ask you, dear reader, how is a Post reader to avoid the confusion of trying to figure out how to understand these (and so many other of Broder's angry and deeply biased comments) when he "wear[s] more than one hat" and "opine[s] in one forum and appear[s] to report in another forum?"

Inquiring minds want to know.

Interested in inquiring? Email the Post's ombudsman.

The Washington Post
David Broder, Eric Alterman, David Weigel
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